Why Are We Drawn to Sad Movies?“The best movies transport us beyond time. We hitch a ride on the emotional roller coaster of the main character’s quest.” – Cathie Glenn Sturdevant

Conjure up any heartbreaking film: Chances are, I’ll most likely be interested in it.

I’m somehow drawn to the melancholy. I personally gravitate toward sad movies (as well as heavyhearted writing, music or other facets of media) since there’s a curiosity in regard to resiliency. There’s a yearning to see how the characters (or real-life individuals, if it’s nonfiction) navigate to the other side and find a source of light.

In addition, I find that there’s a particular beauty in allowing ourselves to truly feel, to be alive in that moment and be affected by the artist’s message, absorbing and admiring the emotional intricacies of what we just experienced.

Researchers have various theories.

A post on cinematherapy.com suggests that these films “allow us to confront very real and deeply sad feelings in a safe and protected environment. They allow us to confront real issues by experiencing ‘reality’ in a safe distance on the screen because our emotional responses feel real.”

In other words, sad movies offer viewers an outsider’s perspective, which can help combat their unresolved traumas, issues and adversity. Perhaps this truth is similar to my desire to observe resiliency from afar. The characters’ coping strategies could very well foster and encourage my inner strength to shine through, too.

The article also speaks of the cathartic process. Evidently, sad films are renowned for producing stress chemicals in our bodies. Catharsis is an antidote to these chemicals. With an emotional release, we purge buried feelings and our awareness increases.

“This release usually lifts a client’s spirits for a little while as the overwhelming emotion diminishes,” the article stated. “Energy that was drained by depression can reemerge, at least temporarily. Often this ‘break’ allows a depressed person to start exploring and healing the underlying issues that caused the depression originally. Grief can be processed more easily too.”

A 2012 news article published on Psych Central discusses research, which depicts a correlation between sad movies and happiness.

Although it may appear counterintuitive, the emotional connection that’s triggered from tragedies allows the viewers to appreciate the close relationships in their own lives.

During a study that revolved around the 2007 film “Atonement” — featuring two estranged lovers who ultimately face dire consequences — investigators concluded that the more an individual focused on their loved ones during the viewing experience, the happier they felt.

“People seem to use tragedies as a way to reflect on the important relationships in their own life, to count their blessings,” Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said.

And, interestingly enough, those who encountered sadness while watching the movie still received a happiness boost in the aftermath due to this immense gratitude.

So, the next time you’re in the mood for a good cry, select the sad film of your choice. Feel, confront and acknowledge your treasured relationships. Oh, and don’t forget the Kleenex.



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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Apr 2014
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Suval, L. (2014). Why Are We Drawn to Sad Movies?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 3, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/04/13/why-are-we-drawn-to-sad-movies/


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